Dozens of people gathered in Holyoke, Massachusetts to protest the New England electric system operator, known as ISO-NE, for ignoring public concerns and hampering the transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean solar and wind power. One speaker, Nathan Phillips, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University, summed up the prevailing spirit, “It’s time for ISO to declare independence from our fossil fueled energy system and operate differently, with the urgency our climate crisis demands.”
Mirelle Bejjani of Community Action Works said, “We’re having this rally because the electric system in the Northeast needs to be powered by renewable energy and the steps decision-makers are proposing are too little too late.” In 2020, about 52.5% of electricity in the system was generated by natural gas-powered facilities, 27% was from nuclear plants, and just 4% was created by wind power and less than 3% by solar facilities.
Monte Pearson, a member of 350Mass, pointed out that ISO discriminates against wind and solar power facilities when they bid to become participants in the electrical system. “ISO held an auction in 2019 to bring new energy capacity into the grid, and just 5% of that energy came from solar and wind power.”
Speaker Peter McAvoy, a lawyer who has previously served on the Municipal Light Board in South Hadley, told the crowd that ISO-NE needs to give more weight to the human costs associated with fossil fuels. He said the practice of municipal light plant law is “stymied by systemic injustice.” A study found that, each day, 25,000 individuals in the world suffer from premature deaths because of fossil fuel pollution – dying early from asthma, heart disease, emphysema, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Communities in Massachusetts with multiple gas-powered facilities have high rates of asthma and pulmonary disease. The future of these communities depends on moving away from fossil fuel infrastructure, and Holyoke made progress with the closure of the Mt. Tom coal plant in 2014. Tyler Jones, a local high schooler and a member of Neighbor to Neighbor, called for more action on behalf of his generation: “Please, for the future of your kids, and the children that follow, start preserving the little beauty left on the earth.”
There is hope for change. Speakers pointed out that in 2020, the governors of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont issued a detailed White Paper criticizing ISO and asking for it to become more accountable to the public. In addition, earlier this month ISO withdrew the contract it gave to NTE Energy to build a natural gas power plant in Killingly, Connecticut.
The Fix the Grid campaign is calling for ISO-NE to create an energy grid that: 1) Stops propping up dirty energy electrical sources in New England; 2) Transitions to 100% renewable energy through demand reduction and conservation, electrification and expanding clean, local, renewable energy sources; 3) Encourages small-scale and decentralized energy production and storage that protects our air, water, forests, and communities; 4) Is governed transparently & democratically with community input on infrastructure siting; and 5) Is affordable and accessible for all.
Fix the Grid includes Community Action Works, local climate groups, 350 Mass, and the Sierra Club